Strategic Car Buying 101

Author’s Note:  I’d like to apologize for any mistreatment and/or agony  caused by the profuse usage of capital letters during Sergeant Gunnery’s boot camp tirade.  Sadly, the Sarge couldn’t make it today because he is now a semi-permanent fixture on my garage ceiling — courtesy of eight rolls of duct tape.  Hoo-ah. 

If there were a scientific method for measuring and ranking all the things that suck in this world, car shopping would probably fall somewhere between getting shot in the groin  with a potato-launcher, and dealing with a bout of moderate to severe Seafood Poisoning.

Unfortunately, owning a car is a necessity for people like me, and every few years I find myself in the same pinch at the local motor mall.

Shown here:  Ron Wiestromski aka "Big Cheddar".  Either him, or Danny Devito.  I can't tell.

Shown here: Ron Wiestromski aka “Big Cheddar” or Danny Devito. I can’t tell.

Looking for a car isn’t the hard part.  In essence, it’s actually not all that different from putting a fridge on layaway.  The part that makes it less desirable than a spud to the hangers is when any of the following semi-fictional bullshit-artists enter the equation:

  • Jerry Flannigan aka “The Dice Man
  • Ron Wystromski aka “Big Cheddar”
  • Dick McGiven aka “The Shark”
  • Ed O’Mallory aka “Fast Eddie”

From that point on it’s nothing but a high-pressure hassle.

Walking through a car dealership is like hiking through the desert with a piece of rotting meat tied to your back.  From the moment I pull into a lot, there’s always some greasy sales buzzard wanting to shake my hand before I can put my foot on the blacktop.  After introductions, I’m getting forcefully shoved past the econo-car section of the lot, and tossed into a pile of Corvettes, Cadillacs and Monster Trucks.

Meanwhile, there sits a tiny, imaginary man in my head, behind a xylophone, frantically playing an ambiguous tune.  It’s a circus melody that perfectly captures the stress and confusion of the moment.

Many people feel the same way about the whole experience as I do.  However, they go about preparing for it the wrong way.  Most folks look to generic buying guides like Consumer Reports or the Suze Orman Show for tips and strategies on how to buy a car.  This advice is shoddy, at best.  Neither of these pop-resources highlight that being approached by a haggling salesman is an Act of War.

If you wanna avoid the runaround and get the most bang for your buck, car shopping requires a tactical, military-like approach.  Hopefully you’ve already completed Tuesday’s Basic Training.  You’re gonna need it.   

Let me break it down by operation.  

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Operation 1:  Reconnaissance

Begin by surveying the dealership for a few days with a pair of binoculars from across the street.  Behind a bush. Determine which day is staffed with the fewest amount of Sales Pests.  Identify a breach area.  Keep a log sheet of your observations.  Take pictures if you can, and carry an infrared lens.

I'll bet you can suck a golf ball through a garden hose, Pile!

Sarge, you gotta chill out with the Capital Letters. I have very sensitive readers…

Operation 2: Infiltrate the Enemy Establishment

After the surveillance operation, enter the lot at the identified breach area, and park as far away from the sales office as possible.  Stealth is key.  Use the vehicles in the lot to shield yourself.  Stay low to the ground.  Remember to camouflage:  sweat pants and a dirty T-shirt with a Budweiser logo on it.  You’ll be hard to spot if you look poor.

Operation 3:  Create a Tactical Diversion

You will eventually be targeted.  Remain calm.  The key at this stage is to create a Tactical Diversion that will delay and/or weaken the offensive strategy of the oncoming insurgent.  Note:  the following tactics are battle-tested, but may lead to a brief jail stint if executed poorly.

 Choose from the following list of Diversions based on your scenario:

  • Parking Lot Tag – When the Sales Pest has captured you for introductions, immediately initiate a game of parking lot tag by firmly tapping him on the chest and yelling out:”Tag, you’re it!”  If he doesn’t give chase, insult his mother.
  • Cops and Robbers (or Cowboys and Indians) – This tactic is also childish.  But who gives a fuck.  Integrate a lot of somersaults and barrel rolls on the pavement into your evasive routine.
  • Panic Button Hand Grenade – Request a set of keys for a vehicle.  Once you receive the keypad, hit the panic alarm button and launch it grenade-style deep within the enemy compound.
  • No Speaky English – If you’re not confident in executing any of the above tactics, use language as a sales barrier.

Operation 4:  Identify Target Vehicle

While your Sales Pest is trying to catch his breath, and/or bent over a car, puking his lungs out, survey the enemy compound and identify the target vehicle for a test drive.  Make sure it’s a Ford.  And make sure it’s not Gold or Burgundy.

Operation 5:  Highway Storm

After you’ve targeted a vehicle to test drive, request the keys.  Bring your Salesperson.  If he politely declines, try softening him up by applying reverse sales tactics: place your hand on his shoulder and ask about his beer league softball career.

After he’s in the vehicle and buckled up, put the pedal to the metal.  Really open up the engine during your test drive.  Do things to the target vehicle that you wouldn’t do with your current vehicle; brake torquing, neutral slamming, red-lining – get a feel for the beast.

If the salesman shits the seat, Abort Mission.

Operation 6:  Negotiate Hostage Situation

At this stage, a hostage situation could mean one of two things:

1.). You’ve landed yourself in the sales office and are negotiating the price of a car.

2.). You’ve landed yourself in jail and are negotiating the terms of your release with a lawyer through a piece of bulletproof glass.

We’ll concentrate on the first one.

This is your opportunity to put the hammer down.  At this point, the enemy should be showing signs of Post Traumatic StressUse these symptoms to your advantage.  Make a lot of sudden, jerky movements, and drop things on the floor, like a stapler, to create loud noises.  If that doesn’t work, try a computer monitor.  This will keep the enemy in a vulnerable, defensive state of mind.

If executed properly, he’ll do whatever it takes to get you the fuck out of his office.  When he’s cowering, immediately submit a low-ball offer on the Target Vehicle.  Hold eye contact.  After he prints a contract at the newly negotiated (low-ball) price, illegibly sign on the dotted line.  Do not shake hands, and do not turn your back to him while exiting the cell.  Before fully carrying out your exit plan, bark.  Like a dog.  Do it with passion and fury.

While he’s under the desk, make your break at full sprint.

Eat my Pants, Suze Orman.  

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What’s the battle plan when you go car shopping?  Please share your funny stories!

-Happy Blogging, Private First Class \m/


  1. becca3416

    You delivered Adam! I have yet to go car shopping on my own, but I will be sure to print out these tips when I do. If I forget, I am going to use the language barrier technique. I like to pretend I am Australian. Wait, that’s not going to work…

  2. twindaddy

    My tactics to date have been…”What? I’m approved? Sure I’ll sign wherever you’d like me to!!”

    That doesn’t sound quite as bad ass as it did when it was rattling around in my helmet. Fuck.

  3. mairedubhtx

    Your rules for car shopping are wonderful. I’ll be sure to remember them when I go next, which will be a while, since I hold on to my cars ’til they are practically dead. This one has a ways to go, and it’s still not paid for. I like to pretend I’m not really interested and walk away and have the salesperson (usually male although the last one was female) come running after me. The last one was actually not a bad experience. I got the car I wanted at a reasonable price and reasonable financing, given my circumstances. No humor there, unfortunately. But your post rocks.

    • Adam S

      Thank you. As I told Becca, please take iPhone videos of you in action. I will make sure it is put on top of the pile.
      Some of the shitheads that I’ve dealt with in the past are probably in jail. I’m not kidding about the potato gun thing. At least it would be relatively quick. Plus, I wouldn’t have to subject any off springs to the ordeal…

  4. diannegray

    I just bought a car (the reason I want to sell my oldie), but I didn’t use a salesman, I got it off a friend and then drove it 7,000 ks (come to think of it I should really pay him for it at some point) 😉

  5. The Bumble Files

    Perfect, Adam! I don’t want to think about car shopping experiences yet, I just want to keep laughing over your funny post. Drop staplers on the floor. ha ha ha…I will try this one! And, his beer league softball career, I’ll remember that one, too. I’ve only bought two cars in my life, both a miserable experience that went on hours too long!! Why does it always take so long. I’ll be ready for the next time now. Thank you, sir, yes sir!!

    • Adam S

      You’re welcome, and thank you!

      The sorry bastards deserve to get haggled back once in a while, right? Following through with these actions makes for a much for enjoyable experience. It also makes good conversational material at the water cooler the following day at work.

      “So anyways, I was at the dealership yesterday looking for a car…”

  6. littlemisswordy

    This was hysterical! And to think, I almost missed it because you no longer show up on my new WordPress reader. Glad I found my way over here! I totally suck at car shopping and dread it each and every time!

    • Adam S

      Thanks, glad you liked! Hopefully you’ll be able to one day put this information to good use.

      Do you understand how this new reader works? I don’t get updates from hardly anyone. Fill me in MW.

      • littlemisswordy

        I’m so freaking lost I’m no help! All the posts seem to run together, my favorite bloggers are not showing up, and everyone’s photos are the size of postage stamps. Join me for BIG ASS PHOTO FRIDAYS! 😉

      • Adam S

        I’m lost too. WordPress screwed up. I don’t feel drawn to anything in the reader because of the way it’s layed out, if that makes sense.

        I’ll pop in tomorrow and see what kinda shenagins you guys got goin on. Thanks for reading, Ms Wordy.

  7. SocietyRed

    Car salesmen=shitstain. Using the “dress like a bum” approach works wonders, especially if you have a couple of loud, snot-nosed, obnoxious kids in tow. You tell them beforehand that touching everything in the salesman’s office is what daddy wants, and breaking stuff gets them extra skittles. Snotty kids in a too-hot office really fucks up the scam. Rent them if you have to.
    There’s a lady in our area that brokers cars. You tell her what you want and she finds it. It costs $300 over list. Done. I’ve bought three cars through her. I hope I never have to visit a dealership again but if I do, I now have grandchildren to break things. Take that motherfucker!

    • Adam S

      Red, you obviously share my pain. These are excellent ideas. I’ve never heard of a car broker, but I will be searching for one in my area within two years. Either one of those, or I will rent a bunch of spastic kids as my minions.

      You are my hero.

    • Adam S

      Katie, when you decide to start not shopping vicariously through someone else, give me a call and I will refresh your memory. This is important stuff.

  8. lillianccc

    I haven’t gone car shopping on my own yet but accompanying my parents about 10 years ago was enough for me to see how shady it can be. The language barrier is a good tactic until the salespeople try to take advantage of it. Apparently the guy tried to slide some sneaky deal by my parents just because they’re Asian. My dad kept silent the whole time before opening his mouth and telling the guy that his bs wasn’t gonna fly. Not those exact words but you get the idea. In any case, I’ll keep your tips in mind for the day I buy a car. 🙂

    • Adam S

      Lillian, you can’t leave me hangin by saying “not those exact words”. This website is not rated E for everyone. Bring your potty mouth with you from now on.

      And give your dad a five up top for me, if that’s not asking too much. He sounds like my kinda guy.

    • Adam S

      Thank you Hannah Bananas, I’m glad to see that at least one person had the same reaction as me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person that thinks I’m funny. John Cleese would hit the like button. Maybe.

      P.S. are you gonna post the other two emails you sent me, or can I use them?

      • H. Stern

        Dude, I’ve been WAITING to see what you would do with them/ totally excited about starting this mutual stalking thing whereby I use my well-known poor judgement to give out my number to this dude I met on the interwebs… because that always ends well.

        And I love John Cleese. I would make sweet love to that British geriatric ass. (See, I could have gone with a “spotted dick” joke. But I didn’t. Know why? A little thing called class.)

      • Adam S

        I know. This is gonna be fun. I have it started as of right now. I’ll keep you posted!
        (No phone exchange needed. Breath easy.)

  9. strawberryquicksand

    Hmm sounds like you have it all worked out! I am jealous that sales pests even bother to approach you. Are you talking new or used vehicles here? Every time I’ve been car shopping in Sydney (happens more often than one would think, when one has an accident-prone husband) we are lucky if the sales person even bothers to put down their sandwich and grunt at us. Maybe you should try car shopping in Sydney. 🙂

    • Adam S

      Maybe I will tough it out here, instead. I can’t justify the cost of postage to ship a mid sized sedan to my house from Australia. However, if money were no object, I would have a few of them dropped in the mail.

      I didn’t realize there was a milder breed of sales pests among us? They definitely don’t dwell in the Motor City…

      • strawberryquicksand

        Hahahah. The funny thing is, where we went car shopping, there is that much competition you would think that they would be on you like a rat on a terrier the minute you even glance through the gate!

  10. Madame Weebles

    I know nothing about cars and even less about negotiating to buy a car at a good price. And since I don’t even have a driver’s license, I don’t think I’ll be buying a car anytime soon. However, these are good lessons to know about, so thank you, Adam. Now what are your thoughts on using a taser to get rid of a Sales Pest?

    • Adam S

      Weebles, you’re welcome. I put this together to put the power back in the hands of the people.

      Don’t worry, I don’t know shit about cars either, with the exception of knowing where to put the gas, and how to turn most of them on. As far as the taser thing goes, that’s your call. I’m not opposed. It’s always a case by case basis. If you’re gonna do it, at least make sure your hands are dry.

  11. Maddie Cochere

    I cut my hair, and that freakin’ sergeant isn’t even here? Thank goodness for hair extensions.
    I like the panic button/hand grenade option, and I’ll drop an anvil in his office. Thank you for the tips.

    The last time I shopped at a lot for a car, I managed to get away from the salesman and go home to “think about it.” When I went back the next day to sign the papers for the car, the salesman told me he had sold it a few hours prior. I was mad and storming off the lot before my husband came out to tell me it was him who had bought the car – for me. Do you think that was sweet? I was not amused.

    • Adam S

      Maddie, I’m sorry about the confusion. It was a last minute move. Many people, I think, were not amused by his antics. So, I opted to tape him to the ceiling. Your hair looks good short, honestly.

      Sounds like you married a charmer. I usually by my girlfriends a card for their birthday/valentines day/any other hallmark holiday.
      But I hand pick the cards, and include a personalized note inside as well.

      • Maddie Cochere

        Your sergeant was super creative and a heckuva lot of fun. We are so trained NOT to use capital letters, that it was quite liberating to yell and be yelled at it. Bring him back for the next round of lessons. … Very nice that you buy your own cards and include a note. You’re a good man.

      • Adam S

        I’ll entertain the thought of bringing him back in, because I agree with you . Maybe we’ll work together jointly — the next go around, that is. (sorry about the hair)

  12. MissFourEyes

    This is the best car buying advice of all time! Taking notes for future use
    I kinda miss Sargent Capital Letters. If I ever have to go car buying, I will not be scared, SIR!

  13. Rosie Baillie

    I’m yet to buy a car on my own yet, but I’m dreading it, so I’ll definitely invest in a dirty budweiser shirt and do my best to look like a student.
    I also find buying a new phone is immensely stressful and full of idiots trying to sell you things you don’t want and trying to pretend they’re ‘down with the kids’ and are therefore super awesome and know what I want.

    • Adam S

      Rosie, when you go, arm yourself to the teeth. Read this again after your first car shopping outing. It will make more sense.

      I’m shocked by how many people haven’t had the same experience. I thought this stuff was common knowledge. I guess I need to start doing better ‘Market Research’.

  14. Brother Jon

    The last vehicle I bought was from a guy I work with. I said “Yeah….$2,200 bucks” and I said “Will you take $1,800?” ….that’s when the usual comes about in these situations….”Let me ask my wife.” A few minutes later “How about $1,900?” “Sure!!”

    How’s that for a boring car buying story?

  15. calahan

    We lease our cars, but it’s amazing how tactical negotiations can get you so much more of a car than you intended. Another tip is to go to a dealership on the last few days of February (the shortest month) because most dealerships make their money by meeting quotas set by the manufacturers, so they are happy to get their numbers up by negotiating prices if it means they get their bigger commission.

  16. Kozo

    Adam, You keep telling people to send you a video. YOU need to make the video BORAT style.
    How about taking off your pants before the test drive. Go bareballs. Tell the saleman you want to really feel the leather seats or the seat warmer. Try to sneak out a fart without staining the seat, and tell him that the motor smells funny. Should be worth at least a $300 discount. Add $100 to the discount if you accidentally wet the seat.

    • Adam S

      Kozo, I’m all for shock and awe techniques, but am a bit hesitant to make myself vulnerable to my salesman. Primates, when battling for dominance, grab for the balls, tear, and finally scatter. This is nature speaking, not me. This is done to prevent procreation. It could get ugly.

      But I’ll try the fart trick and let you know.

  17. benzeknees

    Hubby buys cars in this way:
    1) He starts out with a list of cars he’s interested in
    2) He researches the crap out of each vehicle on Canadian sites, American sites & European sites
    3) He compares his research & figures out a “short list” of 2 or 3 vehicles with the best gas mileage, best repair record, etc.
    4) He calls various dealerships & asks questions about the researched vehicles.
    5) He visits the dealership which appears to be giving the best deal on chosen vehicle & test drives, then negotiates a price he likes. Finis.

  18. cestlavie22

    I like the idea of taking a hostage. Take that bastard of a salesman through hair pin turns and donuts until he agrees to a price I find reasonable without his “car czar” to consult with. This is absolutely fantastic advice 🙂

    • Adam S

      Im glad you enjoyed it. It was a stinker in my opinion, and your feedback helps to sway me a tad to the other side. Panic button hand grenades captured on film is a gauranteed reboot. Just letting you know.

  19. Jean

    I’ve never had to shop for a car, but furnaces and bathroom remodels have their brand of salespeople too. I really hate sleezy salespeople and all their strategies. Generally speaking, they hate me too. I prefer the martial arts. You know, where you use their own weight against them. Whatever tactic they have going — low interest rates, presidents day special (like George f-ing Washington cared about my bathroom remodel) — I let them talk themselves out, and then I tell them that really doesn’t interest me. They just don’t get it. Who doesn’t care about saving money? Then I ask them some technical question. I’m blonde woman, and so it throws them completely off guard when I know what the hell a cold air return or a shower pan is and how it works. Really? Yes. Really. I’m a consumer ninja.

    • Adam S

      Consumer Ninja, when you decide to sell your horse, make sure you revisit this bad advice column. It can only help.
      Maybe you should try dying your hair before embarking next time. Try an auburn hue. Or pink.

      • Jean

        Was thinking of going bald. What are your thoughts?

        Also, after reading my comment above, I first cringed at my typo, forgetting the word “a” and then decided I liked it. I’m . . . . BLONDE WOMAN! That will be my new superhero name, but only if I get to wear the gold cone corsette that Superwoman gets. Are you trying to picture the gold cone corsette with the bald head? I am.

  20. Maggie O'C

    I’m the dumbest car buyer ever. I go pick a car and I will test drive it if it means that much to the salesman. How it drives really has nothing to do with any thing if I think it looks good and I can afford what they are asking because I also suck at negotiating. Thank you for this. I’m going to print it out and take it with me next time and I’m going to practice my barrel rolling.

    • Adam S

      Awesome! See, I didn’t really think about it when I was writing, but I think things are different where I live: The “Motor City”.

      Salesman are aggressive around these parts-probably because there’s a dealership on every corner from here to the Ohio turnpike. There’s a lot of local flavor in this whole piece that I don’t think a lot of people would really understand unless you’ve lived it like anyone here.

      However, carry on with your barrel rolling techniques. I won’t hold you up any longer.

  21. Nicole Marie

    Hahahahahaha. “Walking through a car dealership is like hiking through the desert with a piece of rotting meat tied to your back. ” – Best line ever. And so very, very true.

    Thank you for this. I really have crap negotiating skills. Oh, it’s $25,000? Okay, I guess that’s alright. I’ll take it.

    Next time I’ll try rolling around the pavement and dropping a stapler and yelling random profanities. I hope that helps!

    • Adam S

      I’m glad someone got it! Thanks, I worked hard on that line…
      I’m also making an offer to everyone: videos of the panic button hand grenade technique= reblog. \m/
      ..not expecting to get too many takers on it, however.

    • Adam S



      • Runoffwriter

        Already done, dude! Froze my face off and got so pissed at the wicked wind driving at me the whole time I MAY have told it to go f*** itself and leave me the hell alone three separate times… (Sometimes I find myself in that kind of mood. I think you can relate.) Any other requests?

  22. djmatticus

    But, but, but… if I don’t call Suze, how will I know if I can afford it or not?

    Going to definitely use these tacitcs next time I’m in the market, except for the whole Ford thing, and I’ve always been more partial to Dodgeball than tag (and once I’v knocked the sales pests out of the game I won’t have to worry about them bugging me anymore.)

      • djmatticus

        CA born and raised… my grandparents came this direction from Kansas though if that means anything anymore. Sort of brand loyal, sort of not… but, we do love our Subaru.

      • djmatticus

        My family used to buy American… until we learned that most of the parts were still designed and pieced together elsewhere and then shipped here for final assembly… and until GM came to mean Government Motors… I know it’s a slippery slope, because if we could continue to support “local” they would have more money and could improve their business (process and products) and then their quality would improve to what it used to be (and in some cases I believe that is happening). I’m just not the best test for that because my family drives their cars into the ground before we buy again (my wife’s car has 230K on it, my truck has 200K on it). So, I haven’t had a need to test the “current” quality in a long time.

      • Adam S

        You’re a smart consumer, if you ask me. It’s just a car, right? I love not having a payment, but the lump sum repair bills aren’t convenient either. I’m just gonna buy a bike…

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